Large discrepancies found in drug prices

Consumers charged three times more for same product in some cases, survey finds

The largest discrepancy centered around a pharmacy in Waterford, which was charging more than ¤49 for Losec MUPS, a drug commonly used to treat stomach ulcers and reflux. The same drug in Dublin could be bought for just over ¤16.

The largest discrepancy centered around a pharmacy in Waterford, which was charging more than ¤49 for Losec MUPS, a drug commonly used to treat stomach ulcers and reflux. The same drug in Dublin could be bought for just over ¤16.

Mon, Mar 25, 2013, 17:16

Consumers are being charged up to three times more for identical prescription drugs depending on which pharmacy they shop in, a survey published yesterday morning has revealed.

The price comparison exercise, carried out by the National Consumer Agency, found widespread price discrepancies in the prescription drug market.

It priced a list of 39 items in 45 pharmacies across the State. The largest discrepancy centered around a pharmacy in Waterford, which was charging more than €49 for Losec MUPS, a drug commonly used to treat stomach ulcers and reflux. The same drug in Dublin could be bought for just over €16.

The agency refused to identify the pharmacy involved, claiming that to do so would not be fair.

The second-highest percentage price variation within an area was for Zoton Fastab Tabs, prescribed to patients with stomach complaints. In Dublin, prices ranged from €19.96 to €42.33, a difference of 112 per cent.

Across almost all the drugs it surveyed, there were substantial price discrepancies to be found with price differences of more than 50 per cent between the cheapest and dearest drug in a particular area being the norm rather than the exception.

The Irish Pharmacy Union said the findings confirmed that the sector was extremely competitive. A spokesman pointed out that it was “up to each individual pharmacist to determine what they charge private patients for their medicines”.

He said patients would go to the pharmacy “that best suits their needs not alone in terms of price but also in terms of the nature and quality of the professional service that they receive”.

The NCA said the results pointed to a need for consumers to compare the cost of drugs before choosing their pharmacy. “Consumers can compare prices by simply visiting or phoning pharmacies and requesting that pharmacy’s price for the prescription required,” said Karen O’Leary, the new chief executive of the agency.

She said some pharmacies were no longer charging dispensing fees or had taken to applying just one fee for a number of products and she encouraged consumers to speak to their pharmacist to see if these reductions were available, particularly if they were making regular purchases.

She also called on pharmacies to display information on their dispensing fees and said she had written to the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland asking for them to include guidelines on the display of information on dispensing fees in their code of conduct.

“Some of the price differences here are absolutely phenomenal and I don’t think it is enough to say people should shop around,” said Dermott Jewell of the Consumers’ Association of Ireland.

“Some people might shop around but that call is not logical or realistic. The reality is people trust a particular pharmacy. Another factor is that where you live determines the options you have, and some people’s options can be decidedly limited which means that consumer choice for them does not exist,” Mr Jewell continued.

He suggested that “an element of price control could be brought in” to protect vulnerable consumers.

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